An unemployed man blamed by the authorities for last May’s shock explosion of thousands of balloons during a campaign rally in Yerevan has decided to appeal against a one-year prison sentence given to him by an Armenian court last month.
Serob Bozoyan, who is suffering from cancer, said late Thursday that his condition has deteriorated in recent weeks and that he is in urgent need of medical treatment which he would hardly be able to receive in jail.
A district court in Yerevan court ruled on October 17 that Bozoyan, who sold the gas balloons to organizers of the rally held by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), is the only person responsible for the blasts that injured scores of people. The 54-year-old was found guilty of manufacturing and selling goods not meeting safety standards.
The balloons exploded in the city’s main Republic Square on May 4, two days before Armenia’s last parliamentary elections. More than 150 people were hospitalized with serious burns caused by the massive firewall. Some of them required plastic surgery.
Bozoyan pleaded guilty to the accusations during his trial. His lawyer, Karen Manucharian, urged the district court in the Armenian capital to give the defendant a suspended prison sentence. He argued in particular that Bozoyan was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery in 2009.
Despite the guilty verdict, Bozoyan has not been imprisoned yet. The court gave him until November 17 to appeal the ruling or go to jail.
Manucharian claimed on Thursday that his client’s life is now at risk. “I think that one year in prison would be fateful for Serob Bozoyan and hope that the Court of Appeals will make the right decision on this case,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Bozoyan said he was examined at an oncology clinic in Yerevan recently and told that he needs urgent surgery that would cost him 160,000 drams ($395). He said he has no job at present and cannot afford the operation.
“I could spend that year working and taking care of my kids,” Bozoyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “If I go to jail and don’t come back, who will be better off?”
“Besides, I did not deliberately do anything wrong,” he said. “It was a very bad accident. But thank God, nobody died. Those young people are alive and they have forgiven me.”
Independent media outlets and opposition politicians have condemned the Armenian authorities for not prosecuting other individuals and, in particular, the organizers of the HHK event, which featured live performances by Armenian pop singers and a speech by President Serzh Sarkisian. They believe that the ruling party is also responsible for the explosions. The HHK denies such responsibility.
Manucharian insisted on Thursday that his client had explained to the buyer of the 7,000 balloons how to safely use them. Bozoyan, the lawyer said, warned that the 770,000 drams ($1,900) paid by the rally organizers for the balloons is not enough to fill them with helium, an inert gas that does not burn but is more expensive than natural gas.